I repair manual focus camera lenses and recently got stuck on a particularly complicated repair. One and a half hours of locking things into different positions and making minute adjustments, and infinity focus was still a blurry mess. About to give up, I noticed a small blob of black edged glass, no larger than a dime, off in the corner of my workspace. Pop open the back optic and, sure enough, the piece fit perfectly in place. A few minor adjustments and the reassembled lens was tack sharp again. Lens manufactures aren’t slackers. You really do need all those optics for a lens to work properly.
But this got me awondering: what would it be like to shoot a lens with optical elements intentionally removed? So when a fungus-ridden Minolta MC W.Rokkor-NL 21mm f2.8 lens came my way, it was clearly time to find out.
The 21mm f2.8 is optically one of the most complicated lenses Minolta produced, and the only 21mm Rokkor that works well with digital sensors (the earlier PI and QH 21mm Minolta lenses protrude into the camera body, so light hits the sensor at a heavy angle). The 21mm f2.8 is also my favorite lens to shoot with and I’ve shot 80-90% of my photographs in the past few years with this lens on a Sony NEX-7.
The optical complexity of the lens was actually an advantage for this project. It has 9 optical groups with 12 elements. From this, I identified 7 stages of disassembly, going from the front of the lens to the back. Two of the groups attach to other groups instead of attaching to the lens body, so there was no way to lock them in the correct position once their parent was removed.
For this project, I took 17 pictures total: one photo with the fully assembled lens, worked though the front seven stages (removing elements front to back), one photo with no optics at all, and then working though the stages again in reverse order (adding elements front to back). This last stage was the most difficult, as all the front optics had to be removed every time to add the next element behind them. All photographs where at f5.6 with the same focus and exposure.
So yeah, looks like a bad driver’s license photo. But the series is pretty cool and some of the individual photos are neat. The first part, the front-to-back disassembly, produced more identifiably human images, while the front-to-back reassembly images are more abstract and darker.
And while it may not always be practical to take a lens apart while shooting, wouldn’t it be interesting to shoot other subjects or try types of photography with a partially disassembled lenses? Hell, at least it’s not more of the same generic bullshit. And even on the 21mm Minolta, I skipped a whole lot of optical combinations some of which could be fun. And who know what other lenses may produce.